After making three starts in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series last season for Frank Stoddard's race team, Timmy Hill is back in the No. 32 car for this weekend's event at Auto Club Speedway in Southern California. And this year, the plan is to get him plenty more seat time in the vehicle.
Hill takes over the FAS Lane Racing Ford this weekend at Fontana, and with a few exceptions will be the team's primary driver for the remainder of the season. The 20-year-old from Port Tobacco, Md., has five previous Sprint Cup starts to his name, the best a 22nd-place finish for Stoddard at Kansas Speedway in October of last season.
"He's a good young kid," Stoddard said. "He certainly wants to do it. His dad came to me last year and asked if he could get in the car a few times, so we made an arrangement and tried to work him in there, and I thought he did a really good job. He had a top-25 finish at Kansas City. He didn't tear the car up, didn't put a scratch on it in the races. His feedback was good. He had as good a speed as we've had with anybody in the car. ? So I think there's room for him to grow and get better, and that's what we're looking for."
FAS Lane still has remaining obligations to two other drivers, Ken Schrader and Terry Labonte. Schrader will start the April 7 event at Martinsville Speedway with Federated Auto Parts on the car, while Labonte will run the remaining restrictor-plate races backed by C&J Energy Services. Hill will be in the No. 32 car for the balance of the schedule.
His sponsor will be a company new to NASCAR -- OXYwater, a hydration beverage brand launched last year out of Columbus, Ohio. FAS Lane has announced that the company will back the No. 32 car for 24 races this year, as well as the full season in 2014 and 2015. The company debuted on Labonte's car last weekend at Bristol Motor Speedway, where the two-time champion finished 25th.
The sponsorship commitment "allows us to continue to work on the cars and start improving them," Stoddard said. "We need to start improving them, we need to get some engineering and stuff. We're not going to be able to ramp this thing up and just snap our fingers and fix everything that ails us. But we're certainly going to be in the mix to, in six months, be able to improve the program. That's really our main goal right now."
Placing Hill in the seat is separate from the sponsorship deal, Stoddard said. The driver will join Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Danica Patrick as candidates for the circuit's Sunoco Rookie of the Year award. Contenders for the award earn points based on their 17 best finishes of the season.
"We're going to run really hard with Timmy here, and hopefully make a little bit of a charge toward Rookie of the Year," Stoddard said. "I know it's going to be difficult with him running fewer races, but nonetheless, that's our plan right now, and hopefully that goes off well."
Stoddard, a former crew chief with 14 career race wins on NASCAR's top circuit, founded his race team in 2011. He now partners with OXYwater, whose founders include former Ohio State linebacker Preston Harrison.
"We've always been a team that's come to the race track and raced, and it took a lot of money out of our pockets to go do that," Stoddard said. "So now we're asking the NASCAR fans to get behind us and ? show that they'll come out and support the brands that support NASCAR. That's the way to get new companies in there. We have to continue to get the NASCAR fans to support the companies that are supporting us."
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